North Korea has agreed to send athletes and cheerleaders to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang next month after talks with South Korea, their first in two years. The agreement represents a cautious diplomatic breakthrough after months of rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and comes with a pledge to reopen a military hotline and hold further talks to reduce the chances of a conflict breaking out due to an accident or miscalculation. South Korea said Seoul would temporarily lift sanctions to allow the North to attend the Pyeongchang games, which open on 9 February, and proposed that the two Koreas march together during the opening and closing ceremonies.
South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said: “The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move towards peace and reconciliation.” In a joint statement after 11 hours of talks, the North made a “strong complaint” after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. “All our weapons including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” the statement said.
Security staff at Parliament House in Canberra have expressed alarm after an incident in November when a senior officer disregarded protocols by apparently tasting a suspicious white powder dropped in a public area. Staff are supposed to respond to such incidents by cordoning off the area, calling a Hazmat team and alerting federal police. So they were shocked when one of their superiors wet his finger, stuck it in the loose powder and appeared to pop his finger in his mouth. “It’s salt,” he reportedly declared.
A New South Wales animal welfare inspecting body has accepted $35,000 from a puppy retailer it is responsible for auditing, prompting anger among activists. The Animal Welfare League NSW accepted the money in three Christmas gifts over three years from Kellyville Pets, Sydney’s biggest pet shop. Kellyville Pets denied making the donation, saying the money came directly from the store’s customers. The store sells puppies sourced from external breeders, and has plans for its own $841,000 breeding operation near Bathurst. Critics have described the proposed facility as a puppy farm – a label the business rejects.
70,000 Syrians are fleeing for their lives as the regime advances on the last rebel-held province of Idlib, in what is rapidly turning into a humanitarian catastrophe. The advance comes amid what a senior aid worker described as a “systematic” attack on hospitals in the region, with eight hit by mortars in the last six weeks. “The major goals are to deprive people of healthcare, kill opposition medical workers and push people to flee,” said Ahmad al-Dbis, safety and security director for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM). “The medical situation is a tragedy.” The civil war is now in its seventh year, and half a million people have been killed.
The French actor Catherine Deneuve has said men should be “free to hit on” women. 100 French female writers, performers and academics have published an open letter in Le Monde newspaper saying the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo campaign has led to a “witch-hunt” that is threatening sexual freedom. “Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or cack-handedly, is not – nor is men being gentlemanly a macho attack,” said the letter. The letter attacked feminist social media campaigns such as #MeToo and its French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc (Call out your pig), for unleashing this “puritanical … wave of purification”. “Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.”
Australia’s bowling riches can deliver an overdue Ashes win in England, writes Jason Gillespie. The pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, supported by spinner Nathan Lyon, are a rare gift for captain Steve Smith.
As the Boston Celtics prepare to play in London, Jaylen Brown hears from Donald McRae about race, the NBA and the death of his best friend: “Sport is a mechanism of control in America”.
A three-hour, primetime broadcast of a train journey has been hailed as Australia’s next Gold Logie winner, but also condemned as worse than “watching paint dry”. The experimental SBS documentary The Ghan divided opinion on its way to nabbing half a million viewers across the country. Marketed as Australia’s first foray into the Norwegian genre of slow TV, the program followed the famous passenger train on its 3,000 km trip from Adelaide to Darwin, and has been so popular SBS is planning to release an extended 17-hour cut. Slow TV has become increasingly popular in Europe, with meditative, marathon documentaries such as an eight-hour broadcast of a fireplace, and 12 hours of a sweater being knitted.
After 16 years and $1tn spent, there is no end to the fighting in Afghanistan – but western intervention has resulted in the impoverished country becoming the world’s first true narco-state. In this long read, Alfred W McCoy delves into the thriving heroin trade in Afghanistan, and how it explains the US-UK failure to win hearts and minds, and bring peace to region. “Washington’s massive military juggernaut has been stopped in its steel tracks by a small pink flower,” writes McCoy. “The opium poppy.”
“A few days ago, I sent my brother who lives in the US a message. All it said was: ‘Bad news …’ He replied: ‘What?! What happened?!’ before calling me immediately. What he said struck me: ‘You know you can’t go around sending messages like that’,” writes psychologist Zac Seidler. Almost five years ago, Zac’s dad killed himself and “bad news” messages have taken on a whole new meaning. But his dad’s death sparked Zac to undertake a research project on men’s mental health.
What’s he done now?
It appears Donald Trump may have forgotten some of the words to the national anthem during a college football game in Atlanta. Video of the president singing shows him skipping words and falling silent for whole passages, with his effort drawing mixed boos and cheers from the crowd.
The Australian Financial Review reports that the tax office has warned partners in law, accounting, engineering and medical firms who split their income with their spouses that they are reassessing the rules, after discovering abuse linked to self-managed superannuation funds and related-party borrowing. The change is likely to affect thousands of high-earning taxpayers, typically professionals in partnerships.
A Perth pub has banned drinkers under the age of 21 from using its garden bar, after a series of unpleasant incidents involving young drinkers, the West Australian reports. The Windsor Hotel faced a barrage of bad reviews on Facebook after it said a “motley crew of patrons” had misbehaved, including by breaking glass, urinating on the floor and damaging toilets. And the ABC has a long read on citizens from El Salvador who have been deported from America under the Trump administration. About 200,000 El Salvadorans on temporary visas are expected to be returned home during his term. Life for the deportees is tough in El Salvador, with a high crime rate, low unemployment and bare-bones social support.
Philip Ruddock’s panel reviewing protections for religious freedom in Australia will meet for the first time today in Sydney.
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